Front Porch Blog

An Appalachian mother finds inspiration, and inspires

{ Editor’s Note } Rusti Mullins, a mother of two and wife of a former Va. coal miner, reflects on her summer traveling with her family on the Breaking Clean Tour.


In order to share our story while bringing attention to what is happening in Appalachia, our family traveled across 15 states on what we have named the Breaking Clean Tour.

Looking back over the course of this tour, there are many things we have learned as students, as individuals, as activists, and most importantly as a family. We made several stops where we shared our story of living in the mountains, dealing with the impacts of mountaintop removal, and choosing to take a chance and make a change for the better.

We spoke to amazing people who are doing amazing things in their own areas, like people with Heartwood, Prairie Rivers Network, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, Hands-on Nashville, Gaining Ground Sustainable Institute, the Harvey Broome Group Sierra Club, Coalition for Coalfield Justice, Boston Climate Action Network, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and the members of the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh. These people who not only encouraged us to continue what we have been doing, but inspired us to push further and begin thinking about the next step.

You may ask, what good does our traveling around speaking to small groups of people do? Speaking to any size group will always accomplish something even if it is only inspiring those who are already fighting for a better future to continue with their own struggle. Inspiration is something we all can use, especially if it is inspiration to change things for a brighter and cleaner future.

Several people told us that we were an inspiration to them personally. At one of our first presentations, I overheard a woman talking about how she had attended some other presentation and how she was disappointed in it because of it being so boring. She was prepared for our presentation to be more of the same. After we finished, tearfully she told us that we surprised her with our story, that it was a very powerful one. Many people throughout our tour told us how powerful our story was. We were able to put a face to a problem that affects more than only those individuals living in the mountains. Everyone was grateful for our coming and sharing.

This tour was not only about giving presentations and sharing our story. we also set out to learn what other communities were doing to be more sustainable. We found people who were homesteading and farming, working hard to bring back the family farms. There were people working with schools, teaching children about food–everything from where their food comes from to how to grow their own. We learned about schools that are dedicated to teaching children not only their three R’s, but also what is truly important in life. Other people were teaching children about the importance of our water and how we need to work together to clean up the messes we, as humans, have made.

Speaking of children, our children, Daniel, 12, and Alexandria, 9, were one aspect of the tour that people really appreciated. They especially liked the kids’ involvement in the presentation. Several people told us how proud they were to see us traveling with our kids and speaking out. One gentleman told me that he was tickled to see the kids getting involved and learning to speak out. He stated to me that it was because of and for the children that we should all work towards a better future. The kids also enjoyed themselves.

We each have our own favorite part of the tour. Alex really had a lot of fun working at the Hands-On Nashville Urban Farm. We stopped there on our way to Mississippi and put in a few hours of volunteer work. Daniel thought it was neat that an old plantation, which is now the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, Mississippi, that was once the home of slaves is now a nature preserve. Even when they began counting down the days until our return home, the kids still managed to find ways to enjoy each day and each stop.

Feedback is important when trying to talk to people about something as significant as the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. We received a lot of positive feedback throughout our tour, particularly from people who were in attendance at our presentations. Not all feedback everywhere can be good though. Some of the comments on the Internet pertaining to our tour were not so good. Some people refused to understand what we were doing or why we continued to speak out. We had to do our best to not let what those few people thought bring us down, and it wasn’t easy. There were times we wondered why we were even doing it, but then someone would hear our story, tell us how it has inspired them, and we would feel renewed in our endeavor.

We all must face the voices of the naysayers and let them believe what they will while we continue to walk the path we have chosen, especially when that path is one meant to help others.

Going into this tour, we did not know what to expect. In the end, we received a great bounty of knowledge and experience. We do thank everyone who helped to make this tour happen. We may not have reached the number of people we originally hoped for, but we know we reached a lot of people working hard toward a better future. Perhaps maybe through those people, our story will reach others and in turn reach more than only those we spoke to. The number of people we reached does not decide the success or failure of this tour, though. It was a success because people were open to hearing our Appalachian story. It is not only our story, but everyone’s story, which must be shared. Otherwise, what are we fighting for?




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  1. Lainie Marsh on August 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Thank-you, Rustina, for the positive reinforcement you give me and others who start where we are and do what we can. I’m a singer/songwriter who travels and sings out the Appalachian story. Saturday night in Kansas City I was a little disheartened by someone in the audience defending reclamation. I’ve learned not to react to those comments, to forgive them for what they don’t understand or are afraid to face or would simply prefer not to be bothered with. Nonetheless, I keep singing and sending out the good news about the solutions, such as those you address. Emphasizing that there’s hope is so important.

    God bless! Here’s to strength in numbers!


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